Properties of cell wall could be the key to plant climate change adaptability

Posted on October 7, 2016 in News by . Share this article

Research published this month by P3 researchers at the University of Sheffield sheds new light on plant growth and provides an insight into how plants might adapt in response to climate change.

As part of an project involving collaborators at the University of Leeds, the team used microscopy and genetic methods to study growth of the plant Arabidopsis thaliana under different atmospheric conditions.

They found that the enzyme, PME6, controls the molecular composition of specialised pore cells (stomata) in the leaves of plants and enables them to open and close the pores to prevent excess loss of water.

Plants alter water loss levels in response to environmental cues, including carbon dioxide. When the stomata are not functioning properly because the plant is unable to modify the components of the cell wall, then the plant’s ability to adapt to different climates is affected; the stomata are unable to open and close in response to environmental signals.

Professor Julie Gray, a scientist in the University’s Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, explained, “Turgor pressure is created through uptake of water and we already know that the structure of the guard cells is important to the mechanical process of stomatal opening and closing. This research identifies the main composition of the guard cell walls and we have identified a gene called PME6 that plays a critical role in building the correct composition.”

Using microscopy techniques the researchers assessed different cell types in leaves to see which form of a molecule called pectin was present in each. Pectin is present in leaf cells in different forms, esterified and un-esterified. In the stomatal cells, the researchers observed that it was largely the un-esterified form of pectin that was present. The un-esterified pectin makes it easier for the plants to open or close the stomata thereby enabling them to respond better to different atmospheric conditions.

Professor Andrew Fleming, of the University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences said, “We studied plants in which the PME6 enzyme was switched off as a result of mutations in the gene. This led to stomata not being able to close and the plants lost water by evaporation, which led to decreased growth, at least under present climate conditions. Interestingly, when the plants that lacked PME6 were grown under conditions mimicking future climate, the growth of the plants was normal.

“These results support the idea that we should start breeding plants now with the aim of having climate ready crops to maintain world food supply. Our research will help put us in a strong position to achieve this.”

The research, which was funded at the University of Sheffield by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust.

To read the paper, please go to:

Amsbury S, Hunt L, Elhaddad N, Baillie A, Lundgren M, Vertbrugghen Y, Scheller HV, Knox JP, Fleming AJ and Gray JE. 2016. Stomatal Function Requires Pectin De-methyl-esterification of the Guard Cell Wall. Current Biology,

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